FAIL: Reclaiming the swastika through the medium of t-shirts

A design company tried to reclaim the swastika as a symbol of ‘love’… through the medium of t-shirts. Their designs featured a rainbow – often associated with the LGBT community – and the words ‘peace’ and ‘zen’.

The move created a serious backlash and the website selling them pulled the products just days after their launch, as it became clear the public wouldn’t support the idea.

The symbol is thought to have been around for at least 4,000 years and means ‘good fortune’ or ‘well-being’ in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. According to the BBC, it’s believed to have been used in this way by the Ancient Greeks, Celts and Anglo-Saxons.

However it was adopted by Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1920s, turning it into an emblem of hate, fascism, racism and antisemitism.

The swastika was banned by Germany after the war, and German politicians made calls for it to be banned throughout Europe not so long ago.

In an interview with Dazed and Confused magazine, KA Designs said that through their t-shirts they hoped to “share the beauty of this symbol detached from the hatred associated with it”.

The Israeli Jewish Congress called it “obscene”, while others called it “disgusting” and “offensive”.

What does good look like?

As Dazed put it in their article: “The idea is both crass and badly executed, even if KA do have good intentions.” The idea that they can reclaim the symbol with a couple of tweaks to the design, after being associated with such atrocities, is incredibly naive.

‘Good’ marketing looks like staying away from anything that might put you in the same sentence as ‘hate’, ‘fascism’ and ‘racism’. And please know that you’ll need more than a rainbow, a thesaurus and a t-shirt if you do have aspirations to change ingrained ideas and severely negative sentiment.

As with many bad ads, PR fails, new product disasters and social media gaffes, some simple market testing would have shown you just how far out of touch the idea was.

Moving forward

Is there a ‘lesson learned’ for you? Was this a cynical way to get publicity? If so, was it worth it?

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Chris Rogers

I curate stories of #badmarketing so marketing professionals and business owners like you can learn from the mistakes of others - and produce better marketing that’s right first time. Bad Marketing also aims to be essential reading for marketers, academics & students – and anyone interested in the challenges of marketing.

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